There’s a lot of content out there right now that isn’t just garbage reactionary editorials, brand money blown for the sake of it (does anyones actually buy anything because of a group of hastily gathered young “cultural disruptors” leaning against stuff shot in a sub-Tillmans style?) or Google sating SEO padding to get that ranking. I’ve been enjoying episodes of Red Bull TV’s Social Fabric, the micro histories of key garments presented by Brain Dead’s Kyle Ng. Kyle is a charismatic frontman, and the decision to split the 25 minute episodes into roughly three perspectives means it highlights some global scenes, smaller brands and crafts without being bogged down by a need to be encyclopaedic. The camo and plaid ones are particularly interesting. Whatever your opinion of its CEO and his questionable politics (like Vice, it’s a shame knowing that even the most left-wing messaging bankrolls bad-minded billionaires somewhere down the line), RBMA and Red Bull TV seem to be the content kings on niche topics — I knew that this would be decent, but I wasn’t expecting almost 5 hours of footage on tap for series one.
Seeing as the Skepta Sk AIR logo was all over IG during the last few weeks, we should probably pay respects to the man behind the original graphic language for Nike’s AIR family (Tuned, Total, Zoom, Max and Low) in 1998. The creator of the original Tn logo (as well as the Griffey Swingman) is Derek Welch, and the story of his career, illness and recovery is both sobering and life-affirming — the Adventures in Design podcast spoke to him at length for an April episode and I can’t recommend it enough.
British hip-hop journo Andrew Emery of Fat Lace, HHC and plenty of other periodicals had a stab at rapping in his younger days alongside Mr. Dan Greenpeace and friends. He just put out a memoir of his time growing up as a rap fanatic just outside of Nottingham and in Leeds — an experience shared by legions of earnest young pre-Internet folks getting it wrong through their attempts to be down when retail resources and posses are somewhat limited. What a glorious struggle it was to emulate Compton, Philly and Brooklyn using local amenities. Wiggaz With Attitude: My Life as a Failed White Rapper is out now and available here. I’m interesting to see Emery and Greenpeace’s The Book of Hip-Hop Memorabilia if it ever happens. Incidentally, this is liable to be the only autobiography ever include a paragraph on the Hi-Tec Tec basketball shoe.
Tommy Boy’s promo Carhartt jackets are part of hip-hop fashion lore by now, but their role in preempting this whole contemporary brand orgy bears repeating. Those late 1991/early 1992 pieces probably weren’t the first streetwear collaboration (after all, pretty much all proto-streetwear seemed to engage in what would be considered a collab in current terms), but they set a standard with that three-way Shawn Stussy/Carhartt/Tommy Boy credible brand of the time teamup. Whether it was ever officially sanctioned by Carhartt or whether it’s technically a Stüssy project have never been made entirely clear (incidentally, seeing as GFS got the Phillies Blunt co-sign, wasn’t that a collaboration in itself?). What is known is that Tommy Boy marketing head Albee Ragusa was a Stüssy Tribe member and he headed up the Carhartt pieces as well as 1992’s merch line with Rock Embassy. After starting with 800 promo-only pieces, an Active Jacket variation of the coats went to retail a little later, accompanied by a set of baseball caps with Shawn’s distinctive hand style on them too (from memory, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal of House of Pain rocked the headwear) to coincide with a rise in hip-hop related fashion brands. In an era where music merch constantly crosses over with assistance from streetwear heads, this seems a lot more considered than another tinpot metal homage.
Graffiti backdrops and rap have been coopted by the worst kind of hip-hop conservative — and let’s not get into the live painting festival side of things — but it’s something that’s still interesting when it reaches into other scenes. With a few exceptions, the more rap-centric side of New York hardcore does nothing for me, full of tattooed dudes that would absolutely batter me, stomach rockers and pitbull shots in the videos, plus those clumsy ’92 flows. But there’s a thin wallet chain line between good and terrible when it comes to rock and rap anyway The graffiti and NYHC connection however, is fascinating, from pieces on trains to those hand styles and hooded characters on tape covers. Lately, there have been some strong examinations of the hardcore scene’s aesthetics (this Anthony Pappalardo Youth Crew article on The Hundreds’ site from a couple of weeks back is superb). And last month’s premiere of The New York Hardcore Chronicles, which includes an entire section on hardcore and graffiti with folks like SkamDust, KR. ONE, was tied with a Doc Martens’ project where musician writers reworked the boot that claimed so many teeth on the scene. Building on this classic 2014 feature by veteran Freddy Alva (that SANE Burn piece = mind blown), there’s an entire book on the topic, Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore, arriving via DiWulf Publishing at the end of October, that’s at the pre-order stage right now. Freddy spoke to graf/HC pioneers like Mackie, Chaka Malik and Sacha Jenkins (who I’ve long assumed was the reason hardcore featured in Ego Trip every issue). Just as Seen and friends preferred to paint to Sabbath, and a combination of Grand Funk Railroad and psychedelics probably helped evolved style as much as an 808 drum and THC ever did, while hip-hop was integral to altering hardcore attire from cut-offs and DM’s to Champion and Air Revolutions, the assumption that the soundtrack had to fall in line with the parameters of “four elements” to be considered real would be creating a deeply distracted version of history.
“Many wars and feuds did Conan fight. Honour and fear were heaped upon his name and, in time, he became a king by his own hand..”
Narrator, Conan the Barbarian
Farewell Prodigy. The Mobb changed my life, and I definitely wasn’t alone in this sentiment, from those introductions in seeing the strangely named duo advertising their debut album on 4th and B’way, mentioned in the same breath as accomplished young acts like Illegal and Da Youngstas around that time (despite being comparatively senior at 16/17), to that Black Moon cameo to the Loud-assisted coming of age when that Nudder Brudders sampler hit in late 1994. While many of their equally acclaimed industry friends and foes flamed out post-millennium, the self-contained nature of the crew (having Havoc and Alchemist in the fold meant that the production side never faltered, (a key contributor to the demise of so many other acts) and P’s prolific approach to guest appearances and solo EPs and LPs paralleled the work ethic of one-time nemesis 2Pac. Incidentally, size jibes are irrelevant when you’re that willing to go to work with absolutely all-comers — something that’s even more admirable in the era of the subliminal. Instead of pursuing the A-list or becoming an enigma, despite extolling the no-new-friends mentality long before Drake, Prodigy’s man of the people accessibility was apparent by the glut of beaming fan photos showcasing those tattooed knuckles (and who else was that inked in the rap realm before he got covered around Hell On Earth?) lighting up social media during the last 24 hours. He was a poet who never papered over that pain and the world is significantly worse in his absence. How many other two-man acts have managed to create their own universe, dress, sound and aesthetic like them? They even went full Droog and had their own language (dun beats nadsat). We lost him as a standalone artist and we lost Mobb Deep — condolences to his family and friends. Even at 42, I don’t think he ever reached the physical age of the mind state he hinted at in his late teens. Fortunately, we’ve been left the ultimate soundtrack for shut in the room gloom.
Given that he brought the quotables from 1992 to 2017 and factoring in that take-no-prisoners approach when it came to letting off those opinions, it’s impossible to single out one highlight. I know exactly which portrait was best though. Around summer 1999, The Source ran ads for the much-anticipated H.N.I.C. portrait with a jewel swoosh mid and grey marl clad Prodigy on an ice throne. In his essential autobiography, My Infamous Life, he mentions the campaign,
“Steve Rifkind was serious about promoting my album and Loud started running magazine ads for H.N.I.C. six months in advance. Since my album was called Head Ni**a in Charge, I was sitting on a throne in the ads. The idea came from the end of the movie Conan the Barbarian, when Conan sat on a throne like the king of the world.”
A while back I schemed to put something together regarding the relationship between hardcore and athletic shoes, but the task seemed colossal when it came to research and, crucially, I’m not qualified to write it. The connection between hip-hop and shoes has been mined to mediocrity in pursuit of content and, like some cultural fossil fuel, all that seems to be left — bar those untold stories and archives from those who were there — is fumes. In a cynical world, the do it yourself, self-powered earnestness of it all seems like the antithesis of a marketing grand plan. This ad from a 1986 Maximumrocknroll is just one of thousands of moments — the southern Californian band Half Off (rest in peace to Jim Burke) had a cult following and they briefly had a ‘zine-powered war of words with Youth Crew folks as mentioned in this Noisey Billy Rubin interview from a couple of years ago. The hand-drawn Vandal style Nike with the Terminator/Big Nike style lettering is a nice touch and on that topic hardcore connoisseur William Cathalina has put together a sneaker-centric ‘zine called Shoegazer, with issue #2 dedicated to shoes and the scene. The first run of 25 is long gone, but it’s worth giving him a shout via Instagram to see about a second run.
Skate soundtracks were almost as useful in broadening musical horizons for multiple generations as John Peel was (even the sonic soundscape of the video games had its own impact on some big names as well as those racking up legions of Soundcloud plays). For many, the sound evokes the section, a trick and — given the obsessive nature of skaters — the outfits. It’s a perfect example of how complete and self-contained a scene can be. For some, an emotional memory is unleashed through the Proustian means of scent, while for others, it’s a Beatnuts flute loop that sets a 1993 scene of tiny wheels on asphalt. Continue reading IMMORTALITY
To read old issues of The Source is to be assailed by experiments in big brands targeting an inner-city audience, amazing album promo copywriting, earnest editorials and none-more-1990s moments, but crucially the magazine had an opinion that it was happy to put to work and some of the writing is fantastic. Catching early 1990s for 1.95 in places where the Comag distribution felt the magazine belonged was integral to making me want to write. The sportswear elements of the magazine were an education in themselves, despite clearly being ad-money driven rather than personal picks. A 1992 Rap City segment caught the publication’s staff at the Manhattan offices far ahead of the infamous late 1994 rebellion over those high-mic ratings for The Almighty RSO. Senior editor Chris Wilder sees white folks taking black culture like they did rock and roll — what would follow a couple of decades down the line makes his statements extra prophetical. While it only includes brief footage of the editorial process at work, it’s still a nice little time capsule of a time when a high rating could actually sell units and a rapper shifting around 80k considered a colossal flop. Big up Hias74 for uploading this as well as plenty of other Canadian TV rap-centric gems.
Additionally, that Shawn Stussy Beats 1 show with Mike D is a good primer on the sonic influences behind that pioneering street and surfwear and this uncut SHOWstudio chat with photographer Mark Lebon is some strong background on that original Buffalo era of fashion and streetwear’s union too.